Last year finally marked the end of Stephanie Meyer’s undying Twilight saga. However, the mainstream wouldn’t be safe from her grip for too long, because another book of hers, The Host, was gearing up for a release. Though the book was not warmly received, it only made sense to adapt it. Initially, things seemed to be stepping in the right direction. The film was directed by Andrew Niccol, and even though he hadn’t directed a good movie in a long time, there were those who were hopeful. What really got ME hyped to see the movie was Saoirse Ronan, one of the greatest young actors currently working, cast in the lead role. I couldn’t wait to see this, and... I should not have gotten my hopes too high. While it certainly isn’t a horrific movie, it manages to do the impossible. It’s even worse than Twilight.
The story, which is somewhat convoluted, involves a species of aliens (nicknamed Souls) who have invaded earth, and taken control of most human bodies, which the exception of a small rebellion. One such person is Melanie Stryder (Saoirse Ronan)... and wouldn’t you know it, she’s near dead as soon as the movie begins. The soul that takes control of her body is Wanderer, who initially is helping her own kind, but Melanie refuses to go down without a fight. She is in constant contact with Wanderer, who actually begins to sympathize with the humans, so she goes to find the group of humans Melanie was with. At first, everyone’s suspicious, but Wanderer (now called Wanda) begins earning over their trust, and also falls in love with a young man, even though Melanie’s already in love with someone else. It’s a very weird love... square. Oh, and did I mention that Wanda is endlessly being pursued by Diane Kruger?
The funny thing is, through this whole movie, I kept saying “I should like this.” Somewhere in this material is a fantastic movie. The problem is that the script is so aimless, one note, and surprisingly silly. The movie lacks any structure, it fails in the case of character development, and on top of that, nothing happens. It moves along so oddly, with little to no actual conflict, and any attempt at philosophical depth is squandered, fighting to get attention alongside the weak dialogue, sporadic romance sub plots, and narratives thrown in for convenience. Again, there is a good movie in here somewhere, you just have to look for it, but if you try to stick too close to Stephenie Meyer’s original writing, you’re going to fail. Even the direction, though it’s quite polished, is overcooked, especially the grating string score.
As for characters, it’s a very dry lineup. There’s some great actors in here, such as William Hurt and Diane Kruger (is it just me, or did she seem like the Javert of alien souls), but the movie has no idea what to do with them. Their relationships aren’t interesting, the chemistry is lacking, and a lot of them just feel phoned in. That is, of course, with the exception of one element: Saoirse Ronan. If you’ve seen Atonement, The Lovely Bones, or Hanna, you know she’s a great actress, and she is great in this movie... well, for the most part.
One thing that irritates me is Melanie’s constant voiceover. There’s this built up bond between her and Wanda that makes them feel like a bickering married couple. Maybe that was played for laughs, but it is way too silly. Why was a voiceover necessary? If you want to show her turmoil, that’s fine, but find a better way. You could just convey that through her expressions, or visual juxtaposition. Saoirse Ronan is perfectly capable of letting expressions tell the story. You don’t have to do that for her. As a matter of fact, the character of Melanie is really a bland, hollow, very forgettable character, and I honestly didn’t care for what happened to her.
Wanda, on the other hand, is the great character here. SHE’S the one the audience comes to love. SHE’S the one who gets the proper development. SHE’S the heart and – ahem – soul of this movie. Saoirse Ronan’s best moments are as Wanda, especially when Melanie’s distracting voice over isn’t intruding. It’s where she shines. I don’t want to give anything away, but near the ending, there was one part where I was kind of sad about something that was gonna happen. It promised something powerful, and moving... but, much like Breaking Dawn Part 2, it delivers the absolute worst cop out ending. This frustrated me. For all the problems I had with the movie earlier, I would have been able to stomach all of them if this ending had followed through with what it was building up to. “But screw that”, says Stephenie Meyer. The ending has to be what SHE wants it to be. A sell out that promises more sequels and suckers. In the meantime, everyone else is dumbfounded, wondering how any of them thought that this would work.
It’s just a weak, boring, disappointing start to 2013 for me. As I said earlier, there is a good movie in this material. The potential’s there. You just have to look for it. Clearly, the studio didn’t look deep enough. I may not have thought the Twilight movies were very good, but they didn’t hurt me like this. I wanted to like this so badly, and I wanted it to succeed, but everyone involved dropped the ball big time. I expected much more food for thought, or at the very least, for it to be entertaining.
* / *****